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Eli, My Friend, for $5 Million I Am All Yours

So wait a minute. The L.A. school board only meets twice a month?

And billionaire Eli Broad was allegedly going to pony up $10 million to Occidental College if school President Theodore R. Mitchell would run for trustee?

Look, I love my job. But if Broad is throwing that kind of change around, I’ll be his boy in a heartbeat. And I’ll cut him a deal, too.

I’m available for $5 million, Eli.

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Make me your stooge.

Broad claims this was no quid pro quo. He says he’d been talking to Mitchell for years about creating an institute at Occidental to train principals and charter school bosses, and that Mitchell didn’t have to run for school board to get the $10 million.

But that doesn’t square with what sources told The Times. They said Mitchell wasn’t interested in running for school board, but he was persuaded by Broad’s offer to fork over the $10 million to Occidental.

As this scenario goes, it’s a continuation of longtime efforts by Broad and his pal, former L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan, to own the school board lock, stock and barrel.

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Mitchell, who might be able to help us figure out what went down, has dodged a crystal clear explanation. Better to remain silent and be thought a sellout than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Targeted trustee David Tokofsky is seen by some as a bit of a maverick who didn’t knuckle under to the money boys. As the theory goes, Broad and Riordan wanted him out, with Ted Mitchell as the latest addition to their wooden dummy collection on the school board.

Tokofsky comes out looking pretty good in this mess. There he is doing his job, not particularly attached to one constituency or another, which is pretty hard to pull off in a political minefield like a school district.

He’s not in bed with the union, the administration or other trustees, and although some people can’t quite figure out exactly where he’s coming from, he’s beholden to no one but himself.

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And for this, he practically has a contract put out on him.

“An independent thinker in an educational institution -- is that oxymoronic or something?” Tokofsky asked.

I’m going to stop quoting him now because I don’t want him to sound too good. In fact, one reason I called him Friday night was to let him know I might be making a run at him.

I live in his district, for one thing. It includes Silver Lake. And believe me, I know what has to be done in the classroom. I attended one of the worst high schools in California.

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Tokofsky laughed at the news. But I wasn’t kidding.

Not only do I live in the district, but guess what? Some critics say it was old school arrogance to try to plant another white trustee in a mostly Latino district.

Attention voters: Me llamo Esteban.

Now here’s the money shot:

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I know Eli Broad. I’ve considered him a close amigo ever since the time I clubbed him in the column and he invited me to lunch at Los Tacos in West Hollywood.

Wait a minute. I ought to be charging $6 million.

As a matter of fact, I had smacked Broad around for this same kind of string-pulling. He had slipped a cool $100,000 in pocket change to Antonio Villaraigosa, through a back door, in the last mayoral campaign.

At the time, I had a problem with the likes of Broad -- rich guys who think they can buy anything they want. Good intentions and civic duty are one thing, I thought, but with some of these high-rollers, we’re much better off when they devote their golden years to golf.

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How naive of me.

Over enchiladas that day, Broad told me how the real world works -- while his limo idled outside. He spoke of his commitment to Los Angeles, to public schools in particular, and to his notion that school boards are overrun with hacks and political opportunists.

Better they be overrun with yes men who answer to no one but billionaires who think they know best.

And here I am, but there’s just one hitch.

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I won’t work with Riordan.

Tell me what you want and you’ve got my vote, Eli. More teachers, more books, hit jobs on the other trustees. I can cozy up to Supt. Roy Romer or I can blindside him, whichever strings you care to pull.

But any candidate for governor who gets outshined by Bill Simon ought not have anything to do with the education of our children.

Give me a call, Eli, and I’ll quit this horse today. OK, I can be had for $3 million, and believe me, I can take this bum Tokofsky. What’s he stand for, anyway?

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The Steve Lopez for Trustee Campaign can be reached at steve.lopez@latimes.com.


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